It is important for us to look back on our lives and see where God has brought us, remembering the times in our lives where it was abundantly clear that God had intervened. And once we see how far God has brought us, we can continue to look forward and go where God wants to lead us.
Click here to listen to Sunday’s message:From Ichabod to Ebenezer. You can read the manuscript after the jump.
From Ichabod to Ebenezer
1 Samuel 7:2-12
May 29, 2011
Memorial Day Weekend
If you weren’t here with us last week, you missed out on the introduction of a new game show that’s sweeping the nation at the speed of…molasses: Before and After. We showed different pictures of famous people before they were famous – like a childhood picture of President Obama and a picture of the first Ronald McDonald (which was quite frightening, by the way) – and had our contestants guess who these people were in order to win a fabulous prize. I don’t know if anyone remembers what we talked about after that, but I’m pretty sure you remember some of the pictures – right? Well, piggybacking off of last week’s pictures, I have some more pictures to show you this morning. We’re not going to do it as a game show or anything like that. If you know where the picture was taken, just go ahead and shout it out:
Show Monuments: Gettysburg “High Water Mark,” “Shot Heard ‘Round the World,” George Rogers Clark Memorial, United 93, Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
There’s something about us as human beings that has the need to commemorate important events. These monuments tell part of our story. When we see them, we are reminded of that part of our story and challenged to move forward as our life stories continue to be written. Monuments like these can commemorate times of immense heartbreak and sorrow. But they can also remind us of times of courage and honor – even in the midst of impossible odds. Monuments like these declare to us “This is it! This is where everything changed. For better or worse, this is where history changed its course.” They point to a significant event and they challenge us to keep moving in the right direction.
Throughout the story of the people of God, we find many different monuments erected as reminders to everyone else about how God had intervened in the unfolding of their stories.
When Jacob had his dream of a ladder with angels descending and ascending on it, he knew that God had revealed Himself to Jacob in a remarkable way. He took the stone that he had been using as a pillow (which sounds very uncomfortable to me – but that’s beside the point, isn’t it?)…anyway – he took the stone he’d been using as a pillow and set it up as a pillar and dedicated it by pouring oil over it. He gave it the name, Bethel, which means “House of God,” saying, “This place is amazing! It’s like a gate to Heaven! Surely this is the House of God.” Whenever he and his descendents passed the pillar of Bethel, they remembered how God had revealed Himself in that place.
Last week we talked about how Joshua and the Israelites conquered the city of Jericho with the help of a woman named Rahab. But before that happened, the army had to cross a flooded Jordan River. God stepped in and they walked across the Jordan on dry land – just like they had done when crossing the Red Sea some 40 years prior. While they were crossing the Jordan, Joshua had 12 men pick up 12 large stones from the middle of the dry river bed. After they had crossed the river, they set up those 12 stones on the river bank to mark the place where the waters had opened and they had finally crossed into the Promised Land. And every time the children of God saw that altar, it reminded them that God had already brought them this far – He was going to continue to guide them and provide for them.
These altars, these memorials served as physical reminders to the people of Israel about how God had brought them to this particular point in their story. One monument carried a powerful message with it, and it proclaimed God’s power to everyone who saw it. The monument is called Ebenezer.
If you have your Bible with you – and I hope you do – Please turn with me to 1 Samuel 7:2. If you don’t have your Bible with you, you’re welcome to use the one in the pew in front of you. 1 Samuel 7:2 is found on page 239 in those red pew Bibles.
Now, if you’re like me, the first thing you think of when you hear the name Ebenezer is Ebenezer Scrooge from the Dickens novel. When many people hear the phrase “raise my Ebenezer,” they can’t get the image of a friendless miser in London who is visited by three spirits on Christmas Eve. But there’s much more to the name than a fictional character from the 19th century. But in order to fully understand the meaning behind the name Ebenezer, we first have to discuss another name: Ichabod.
Early in the ministry of the prophet Samuel, the Philistines, the arch-rival of ancient Israel, attacked and defeated God’s people in a fierce battle. Confused and concerned about their unexpected defeat, the leaders of Israel tried to make sense of it all. “How did this happen? How do we make sure it doesn’t happen again?” they asked themselves. And they came up with a plan: they would bring out the Ark of the Covenant, a physical reminder of the presence of God, to rally the troops and possibly even guarantee a victory over the hated Philistines. When Hophni and Phinehas, sons of the chief priest, brought the Ark into the army’s camp, a loud roar erupted from the troops. You’d think this would discourage the Philistines. It didn’t. In fact, it challenged them to fight even harder. And that’s what they did.
They were trying to use God as some sort of magic talisman or a good luck charm, hoping it would somehow rub off on the army of Israel. They didn’t really believe in the power of God because they didn’t even inquire of Him. To them, this was just a magic box.
The magic failed to show up. God refused to be taken for granted. And the Philistines routed the army of Israel. They were so overwhelming that the Israelite survivors ran away and hid in their tent. The army of Israel was defeated. Hophni and Phinehas were killed. And the Ark was captured by the hated Philistines.
In the midst of all of this disaster, the wife of Phinehas went into labor. Her husband, brother in law, and father in law had all died as a result of this defeat. And when she heard the news of how one catastrophe had happened upon another, she went into labor. She gave birth to a son and named him Ichabod.
I know. You’re thinking of Ichabod Crane from the Headless Horseman. But this is where the character’s name comes from. Ichabod means “No Glory.” What a horrible name to be given! Every time family and friends called out to this little child, they would be reminded of how the glory of God had left Israel when the Ark was captured. Surely that didn’t help this child’s self-esteem.
As the Philistines held the Ark in captivity, strange things began to happen. They would put the Ark in their sacred temple as an offering to their chief god and the next day, they’d go into the temple and discover the idol was face-down before the Ark. Don’t tell me God doesn’t have a sense of humor! And every city where the Ark was held captive would experience strange phenomena, like the appearance of boils and tumors on the inhabitants of the Philistine cities.
After seven months, the Philistines decided to return the Ark to the people of Israel. They were tired of being cursed by the presence of the box. So they put it on a cart, attached some cattle to it, walked to the edge of the Israelite territory, and let it loose.
Can you imagine being out in the field, harvesting your wheat when you see this speck coming towards you from a distance? As you watch, you see that it’s a team of cattle pulling a cart – and there’s no driver. And then, as it finally gets close enough, you see what’s on the cart: The Ark that you’d thought was lost forever!
They were ecstatic! They took the cart, chopped it up and lit a fire. On the fire, they sacrificed the two cows that the Philistines had sent. But they still apparently thought this was just a magic box because 70 of them decided to lift up the lid of the Ark and look inside. The people’s joy immediately turned to grief.
Ultimately, they brought the Ark to its rightful place. And they began to take God’s power and presence seriously.
Read 1 Samuel 7:2-12
“Thus far the Lord has helped us.” This monument was set up as a reminder to the people of Israel that God has brought us this far – and He’ll continue to bring us victory…if we continue to choose to follow Him and take Him seriously.
We all need Ebenezers like that. We all need reminders of where God has brought us and the promise that He will continue to guide us. That’s what baptism reminds us of. It’s a powerful symbol of how God changes lives. And every time we witness a baptism, we are reminded of how far God has brought us.
We also reminded ourselves of how God delivered us from the depths of our sin when we celebrated the Lord’s Supper a few moments ago. The broken body and torn flesh of Jesus, represented by the bread that we ate; and the blood that was willingly poured out for us so our sins could be washed away, represented by the cup that we shared…those are powerful reminders…Ebenezers….that God uses to remind us of what He has done for us – and that He’s not through with us yet.
We need to take these symbols, as well as other events in our lives, and continually remember how God has used circumstances to shine His light in amazing and remarkable ways.
When we began our adoption journey, I began to hear all kinds of stories about how God provides in those situations. I half-heartedly wrote them off by saying to myself, “Yeah, yeah. I know God provides. And that’s what you’re supposedto say in this situation.” It’s kind of like the expected, Sunday School response. You know – like “Elijah” or “Moses” are usually the go-to answers for any Old Testament question. And “Jesus” and “Paul” are the go-to answers for New Testament questions. When people would talk about how they were going to cover the expense of international adoption, the pat, go-to answer seems to be “God will provide.” Which is great. But I don’t know if I believed it.
Until we received unexpected news two summers ago. We received an email from our adoption agency informing us that we had been approved by the Ethiopian courts to adopt Mihret. This was a surprise to us, because we didn’t know we actually had a court date. And this meant we would be bring our daughter home with us much sooner than we’d initially thought. At the same time, the fees and travel expenses we knew were eventually coming were needed much, much sooner than we’d planned.
And we didn’t have the money.
When we came to this realization, we were crushed. How were we ever going to be able to make this work? I must confess, I began to panic just a bit. I didn’t have any answers.
A few days later, we received a letter from an organization called ShowHope, which helps provide financial assistance for adopting families. The letter informed us that we had received an adoption grant from them. And it covered the rest of the fees and the plane tickets. The date on that letter? The same date we found out we had passed court in Ethiopia!
I am convinced that God moved a mountain that day. And He began doing it before we even knew it was in our way.
Whenever I get worried about finances or how we’re going to be able to get through whatever mini crisis that arises, I remember this story. I remember how God has brought us to this point and He isn’t going to abandon us.
We tell our stories and raise up our Ebenezers – monuments to how God has worked – not only to remind ourselves, but to proclaim the glory of God to everyone else around us. We raise our Ebenezers so that we and the rest of the world might know and remember who He is.
You have a story to share. It’s one that reminds you of what God has done, but it also proclaims it to the rest of the world. Are you telling it? Are you allowing it to be shown in the way you live?
I don’t care what you’re doing this Memorial Day weekend: You could be watching the Indy 500 or the Coca Cola 600. You could be visiting the cemetery or going to a family cookout. Or you could just be spending the rest of the weekend by yourself. Take a few minutes this Memorial Day weekend and remember. Remember what God has done for you already. Remember how much He has changed you already. Remember how He has been there for you every step of the way – even when you didn’t feel His presence. And begin to live with confidence that God is in complete control. You just have to rely on Him.
Maybe you even need to build your own Ebenezer – something physical and tangible that will remind you of the momentous ways that God has brought you out of darkness into His glorious light. And raise up your Ebenezer so all can see, giving Him all of the glory and honor He so richly deserves.